HOUSTON – In the first federal decision on vaccination warrants, a Houston judge on Saturday dismissed a lawsuit brought by hospital employees who refused the COVID-19 vaccine – a decision that could have an effect drive across the country.
The case involved Houston Methodist, which was the first hospital system in the country to require all of its employees to be vaccinated. US District Judge Lynn N. Hughes said federal law does not prevent employers from issuing this warrant.
After months of warnings, Houston Methodist had put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on suspension without pay on Monday. They were told they would be made redundant if they were not vaccinated by June 21.
The hospital had already made it clear what it was saying: It fired corporate risk manager – Bob Nevens – and another manager in April when they missed the earlier deadline for bosses.
In recent weeks, a few other major hospitals have followed Houston Methodist’s lead, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Louisville, the New York Presbyterian and several major hospitals in the Washington, DC area.
Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom predicts other hospitals will join the effort soon. Many hospitals and employers were waiting for legal clarifications before taking action.
“We can now put that behind us and continue to focus on unprecedented safety, quality, service and innovation,” Boom said after the decision. “Our employees and physicians have made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”
The lawsuit was filed by 117 workers led by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at the Houston Baytown Methodist Hospital who refused the vaccine because she considers it experimental and dangerous. The judge disagreed, writing: “This statement is false, and it is also irrelevant.”
Upon hearing of USA TODAY’s dismissal, Bridges vowed not to give up. She launched a change.org petition which by Saturday attracted over 9,000 signatures and a GoFundMe to pay for the lawsuit that raised $ 130,000.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “Methodist is a very large company and they are pretty well protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight and we are ready to fight it.”
The lawsuit claimed that federal law prohibits employees from being compelled to be vaccinated without full approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for the vaccines. Currently, the FDA has cleared Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines under a special emergency provision.
The judge also rejected this argument, saying the law does not apply to private employers. He also rejected the argument that anyone who receives the vaccine is indeed a human subject in an experimental trial.
“Hospital workers are not participating in a human trial,” he wrote. “They are doctors, nurses, medical technicians and licensed staff. The hospital has not requested testing of COVID-19 vaccines on its employees.”
The lawsuit was originally filed in Texas state court, but was transferred to federal court at the request of the Houston Methodist. The federal judge ruled on Saturday that Texas state law only protects workers from dismissal if they are forced to commit a crime.
David Heath is a reporter for the USA TODAY National Investigation Team. Contact him at [email protected] or @davidhth, or on Signal at (240) 630-1962.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Houston Hospital Vaccine Resistance Trial Dismissed by Judge